by Will Raven
In the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a spooky tale about a campus serial killer.
“It appears The Crimson Ripper has returned. . .”
I spilled my coffee and nearly choked on a donut when I heard those words on the radio this morning. I took a deep breath as the news continued.
"Susan Walker, a Crimson College freshman, was found dead late last night outside her dorm. Her bloody body was discovered lying under a bush. The victim’s throat was cut from ear to ear and her nose was sliced off, according to campus police.
The killer placed a single red rose on the young woman’s body, a familiar trademark left by the Crimson Ripper who a decade ago terrorized this small Eastern Shore town.
The murders stopped after just a few days, but the killer was never caught. Police are asking anyone who might have seen anything related to the Walker slaying to call the tip line at 800-777-TIPS.”
What began as a bright, sunny day suddenly turned dark. My mind raced back 10 years ago to Wednesday, October 15, 1969. “Sugar, Sugar,” and “Time of the Season” played constantly on the radio.
The New York Mets and the Baltimore Orioles played in the World Series, the Vietnam War raged on, and VW Bugs were everywhere. It was just two months after Woodstock and the ghastly Manson family murders.
I was a 19-year-old sophomore English major at Crimson College. On that crisp October night, the Maiden’s Mist began creeping over the campus and the temperature dropped 20 degrees.
The watermen say the Maiden’s Mist comes along every 10 or 12 years after heavy rains. It’s a sweet fog that smells like cotton candy. The seductive mist forms over the Chesapeake Bay and drifts silently into town under the red glow of a blood moon.
The mysterious vapor made everything hazy. The streetlights beamed dim rays into the foggy night. The buildings appeared shapeless and people walked slowly in the creepy shadows.
Larry Mills walked across the campus alone that night after leaving the library to grab a bite at the all-night diner. As he turned the corner of the Math building, he tripped over a body lying on the sidewalk. His books sprawled everywhere and he landed in a pool of blood. The dead girl’s tongue was cut out and the murderer placed a red rose over the cavity.
Mills starred at the unbelievable horror for a few seconds and then ran like a wild boar straight for the campus police station. He screamed “bloody murder” all the way. The screams sliced through the thick mist, bouncing off buildings and dormitories.
When Mills arrived at the station, he pounded repeatedly on the door and collapsed. The horrible cries awakened many students at the small liberal arts college, where practically everyone knew each other in one way or another.
The slaying dominated the news the next morning. Everyone on campus talked about it. I was late for my morning PYSC 101 class, but I picked up a copy of the Crimson Times. The headline read: “Woman Savagely Murdered Outside Crimson Dorm.”
Reporters had many questions and the police had few answers. A maniac was loose and a deep, forboding of gloom blanketed the campus
Most students knew the victim. Monika Brinkley was a cheerleader with blond hair, blue eyes and long legs. She was sociable and a good student set to get her bachelor’s degree in political science in the spring. Now she was dead – a maiden in the mist who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
I knew Monica. She was in my history class that year. She asked lots of questions about Hitler and the holocaust. I saw her flirting with the professor at times, but he wasn’t biting.
By noon, more state police arrived. Extra checkpoints were set-up at the college entrances. No one without a proper ID was allowed in. Police also recorded tag numbers of vehicles leaving as well.
I met my girlfriend for lunch at the Greasy Spoon – at least’s that what we called it. The little shack was actually called The Redbird Tavern named after our college team’s nickname – the Cardinals.
The food always dripped with oil but it was palatable and cheap. Besides it was on campus and a better alternative than the slop served at the dinning hall.
Sarah sat alone in a booth near the kitchen. I walked over to her. We saw each other and embraced. The day before we argued over my drinking. I admitted that it had gotten worse, but I had it under control. I guess the news about Monika Brinkley paled in comparison to our little spat.
“How’d your class go this morning,” I asked.
“Nothing special,” she said, “But did you hear the news?”
“Yes, it was a shocker,” I answered.
“I really didn’t know Monika that well, but what happened to her was so gruesome,” she said.
We ordered our usual cheeseburger and fries and talked for over an hour about the killing and about her dad who suffered a heart attack over the weekend. He remained in intensive care.
I loved Sarah. She was pure in heart and perfect in every way. Her amazing smile, sexy lips, and warm glow floored me. I fell for her long red hair, thin face, and hazel eyes.
We first met in English class, and I mustered enough nerve to sit next to her. She was left-handed like me and it was a great icebreaker. We just hit it off after that.
Sarah was an art major and she wanted to start her own design firm one day. I studied English and had a pious ambition to be a novelist. We both loved the arts, movies, and rock “n” roll. And we were both 19.
We finished lunch, and I kissed Sarah goodbye. I asked her not to go out after dark. We planned to hook up again on the weekend. We planned on doing dinner and a movie if things on campus calmed down.
After lunch, we each had 2 o’clock classes so we went our separate ways. As I hustled across campus for my English class, I noticed the strong presence of police cruisers and patrolmen. It made me feel safer, yet nervous. People dressed in uniforms always got me on edge.
I attended an eight o’clock lecture that evening by Professor James Whitaker–a renowned Edgar Allan Poe biographer. I already had a copy of his book, and I wanted it signed.
The fog returned that night and so did its sweet smell and seductive shadows. Those who walked that evening did so cautiously and at their own peril.
I got my book signed and thoroughly enjoyed the professor’s discussion of Poe, whom he called a complex and tortured man but a true literary genius.
I don’t recall exactly when I got back that grim October evening, but it had been a long day. I hit the sack.
The next morning I didn’t have a class until 11 o clock and I didn’t have to worry about a roommate waking me up either. I rented a tiny basement of an old house on Strathmore Street.
Several houses there were routinely rented out to students. I worked part-time at the campus bookstore to pay for the place. I also cut the lawn and picked up Mrs. Morgenstern’s prescriptions over at Bailey’s Pharmacy. She was a great landlord and treated me kindly.
That morning after lazily getting dressed I went across the street to grab a cup of coffee. I overheard two women talking about another slaying.
The victim was Leslie Knox. I knew her vaguely. Sarah shared her biology notes with her once. She was a bookish girl, fat, not ugly and wore large, nerdy glasses. She always had a romance novel in her hands. According to police, the 20-year-old-woman’s corpse was discovered in a dumpster behind Morrison House—a male residence hall.
A hatchet was buried in Knox’s brain and her eyes were cut out. The slayer pinned a red rose to her blood-stained sweater. No one knows why she ventured outside that night.
Perhaps Knox left something somewhere and she just had to go back to get it. Or perhaps the killer seduced her. No one knows why. And no one heard her screams, if they could be heard at all.
Another maiden in the mist was dead under the glow of the blood-moon. The Crimson Ripper struck again—killing another prey who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
And still police had no suspects and little evidence. Later that day, school administrators put in place a 10 p.m. curfew. Cops swarmed the campus coming and going like bees of a hive. The FBI was called in, too, and students, reporters and community members alike demanded answers.
It was Friday and I worked my scheduled six-hour shift at the bookstore. We had a television at the back counter and the manager kept the news on throughout the day. Few customers came in and no one stayed long.
I shelved books most of the day. I just love the smell of new books, and we got many good titles in that day. It rained that afternoon, bringing with it oppressive clouds and a sense of doom.
The moment I got off work I called Sarah and told her how much I loved her and to be watchful. We decided not to go out that night and instead do something Saturday afternoon.
After hanging up, I lit a cigarette. It calmed my nerves. I suddenly got the urge to drink. Beer was my favorite weapon of intoxication. But I remembered my quarrel with Sarah and so I sipped from the can.
“Control,” I said. “Control.”
I then pulled a frozen pizza out of the fridge and put it in the oven. I pecked away at a short story I had been writing about a Vietnam vet who returns home to find his wife is running around with another man and he can’t hold down a job due to terrible flashbacks related his to Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). The story was a real downer but it reflected the times.
A few minutes later, I devoured the pizza and decided to sit down in my favorite arm chair. It’s where I did some of my best writing and napping. I dozed off with a beer in hand.
Night came and so did the mist and its sweet and seductive smell. We all hoped the murderer would be caught or better yet killed. A monster lurked among us, thriving in the shadows and feasting on our fears.
Who would be next? And when would it happen?
The next morning the radio jarred me. I had the dial tuned to the campus station.
“Last night, despite high police visibility and a curfew, another woman was brutally murdered on the Crimson College grounds.”
My sleepy eyes widened as the new bulletin went on.
“Sarah Anne Kelly was slain by the Crimson Ripper who left his trademark red rose on her dead body. Police found the 19-year-old woman in the back seat of her Ford Mustang parked on the south side of campus. Her heart was carved out and was apparently taken by her murderer.”
I sat upright in the bed and began pulling at my hair. I cried and cried.
“No!...No!...Not my Sarah! Why? Why?”
In a panic, I called Sarah’s dorm phone. I wanted so much for her to answer. I wanted to hear her sweet voice again. Perhaps it was all a bad dream. But she never answered. An officer picked up the phone instead and immediately wanted to know who called and why.
“This is Henry Jensen,” I said. I am Sarah’s boyfriend. Tell me this is not real and she is still alive, right?”
The cop said that he would send a cruiser over to pick me up. They wanted to ask me some questions and it was all routine. I agreed.
For what seemed like an hour but was only minutes, I just starred outside my window with a blank look on my face. I, of course, fully cooperated with the police and told them everything I knew about Sarah and her last whereabouts.
As far as I knew, she was in her dorm that night studying for a Van Gogh exam. We planned to do something together on Saturday afternoon. Police finished their questioning and let me go. I almost felt like they suspected me, but they assured me that was not the case.
I went back to my apartment and fell into a deep depression. I started drinking again and became suicidal.
“What was life without my Sarah and why was she taken from me?”
My melancholy lingered and then I took a bunch of Mrs. Morgenstern’s Valium thinking it would be a painless way to go. It didn’t work that way. The mailman found me on the front porch hunched over and delirious. They said I was mumbling Sarah’s name over and over again.
I was rushed to the hospital and doctors pumped my stomach. I lived but it was a long, long road to recovery.
I ended up in Harmony House Hospital, where I underwent psychiatric treatment for my drinking and clinical depression. I don’t think I ever recovered from Sarah’s horrible death.
The doctors said I had a chemical imbalance in my brain. I took lots of pills and saw many Sigmund Freud types. They said I hated my mother and father, and they were at the root of all my issues.
After nearly five years of therapy, I was released. Thanks to one of the nurses, I got a one-bedroom apartment for $150 a month near Crimson College.
No one wanted to hire someone who spent time in an asylum and the only job I could get was as the caretaker at Mulberry Hill Cemetery. It actually worked out. I pretty much kept my own hours and I didn’t have some boss looking over my shoulder every second. Best of all, Sarah was buried there and I could visit her when I got lonely.
The small cemetery pretty much filled up in 1972. My job was to keep up the grounds, put flowers down on holidays, and dig an occasional grave.
A few years passed, and I saved up enough money to re-enroll at Crimson College. I was about halfway through my English degree when all the first killings started in 69. And now, they have started again. The creepy Maiden’s Mist has returned and so has the serial killer.
When I heard the news this morning about Susan Walker, my stomach turned. I’m afraid I might know who the Crimson Ripper is, but I have to be sure.
I got dressed and drove down to the cemetery to check out something that bothered me. A few days ago, I noticed the door to the wooden shed had a new lock on it. I checked out the old wooden shack once when I first started working at the graveyard.
It smelled musty like I imagined a mummy’s tomb might be. It was infested with spiders. An axe, a rake, and pair of shovels hung from the walls and there was a bucket of rusty nails on the floor. It appeared the shed had been untouched for years.